Thursday, May 26, 2016

Josephus Wheelock, Southern Loyalist

I just finished a fascinating research project on Josephus Wheelock (1792-1872), son of John Wheelock and Dorothy Wilder of Heath, MA. Josephus is one of the few with the Wheelock surname who moved from New England to the southern states before the start of the civil war. He was born in Heath, MA in 1792, and fought for Vermont in the War of 1812. Sometime after that he moved to Alabama, probably in the late 1810s or early 1820s. The Creek War of 1813-1814 had forced the Creek Indians to cede roughly 23 million acres of land over to white settlement, much of it in central and southern Alabama. After that, the white population of Alabama grew rapidly, from 9,046 in 1810 to 309,527 by 1830, in what has been called "Alabama Fever", an influx of migration driven by a rapidly growing world wide market for cotton. (ref:

Josephus was likely swept up in these events. He married a woman from South Carolina, name unknown, probably in the late 1810s. Though he doesn't appear in the census prior to 1840, records indicate that he made land purchases in Tuscaloosa Co, Alabama between 1827 and 1839. In 1840, he is living in Tuscaloosa, with his wife, ten children, and eleven slaves.

By this time, slavery was well entrenched in the Alabama economy. The European demand for cotton, as well as demand from New England clothing mills created a lucrative market for cotton production in the south. As plantation agriculture grew, so did Alabama's slave population. In 1819, when Alabama attained statehood, slaves accounted for 30 percent of the population. By 1861, it had grown to 45 percent.

With the 1832 Treaty of Pontotoc, the Chickasaws ceded all of their land east of the Mississippi to the American government. (ref:, This included most of northern Mississippi. In 1836, Tishomingo Co, Mississippi was created from a portion of this ceded land. Shortly thereafter Josephus' son, John settled in Tishomingo, and by 1845 his father had settled there too, where he would remain for the rest of his days.

Josephus continued to own slaves until at least 1860, though by then his holdings had dwindled down to three. Despite his status as a slave owner, and despite the fact that his sons, Joseph and Jay served in the Confederate Army, Josephus was a southern loyalist during the civil war, with allegiance to the Union. At the end of the war, Congress created the "Southern Claims Commission", through which pro-Union Southerners could apply for reimbursement for their losses during the war. Josephus made such a claim for the amount of $12,377.16, for items taken by Union soldiers, damaged, and otherwise lost during Union occupation. Josephus died while the petition was still pending, at which point his son John took over administration of the petition. (Src: "U.S. Southern Claims Commission, Disallowed and Barred Claims, 1871-1880", online at, May 2016.)

At least two of his sons fought for the Confederacy; both moved to Monroe Co, Arkansas before the war started. His son John continued to live nearby until Josephus' death, after which he moved to Texas with his family.

One can only imagine what conflicts tore at the family because of divided loyalties. But one thing can be certain, Josephus' family was but one of many. Loyalties were bitterly divided across the south. Surprisingly, nearly every Confederate state raised at least one battalion of white soldiers to serve in the Union army. Alabama, for example, raised 3000 soldiers to fight for the north (ref: In another indication of the divisions, twenty-three of the fifty-two counties in Alabama voted against secession (ref:

Josephus' wife, Mehitable, or Mabel as it appears in most of the census records, moved back to her hometown of Jericho, VT after Josephus died. How he and Mabel met is a mystery, given that they lived so far apart. Most likely they knew each other when Josephus lived up north. Both of their spouses died before 1850; they probably took the opportunity to act on their previous relationship, and get married.

The records have yielded few clues to the name of Josephus' first wife. The census records for her children state that she was born in South Carolina. The 1840 census implies she was born between 1800 and 1810. There is a tantalizing post on the Mississippi Tishomingo Co Rootsweb Archives that may prove to be a clue. The post states that a Matilda Wheelock (2 Feb 1801 - 26 Mar 1847), wife of J. W. Wheelock, is buried in an unnamed cemetery on Eastport Rd, in Tishomingo Co, MS. Could this be Josephus' first wife?


  1. Fascinating article Rick. Thanks for all your research!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.